Raising twin cows is tricky business
July 12, 2013
Here at Pipi's Pasture, it isn't unusual for a cow to have twins; in fact, we get about one set a year.
When people hear about twins, they make remarks such as, "Super!" and "How lucky you are!" The truth of the matter is that although it means an extra calf that year, twin calves make a lot more work, and they usually cost a lot to keep, too.
For one thing, there's the mother's milk supply to consider. Some cows just don't have enough milk to support two calves (although for years my dad tried to tell me that most cows could take care of two calves just fine). For some years, whenever a cow had twins and it appeared that she had enough milk for only one, we took one calf off and fed it with a bottle. That way, we were sure that both calves got good care. (Some ranchers graft a twin calf onto a cow that has lost a calf.)
But there is one thing that I've learned throughout the years. If we do have to supplement a twin with a bottle, the best thing is to leave the calf with its mother. (I thank my brother Duane Osborn and son Jamie and his family for this advice.) Of course, this means that the cow has to stay at home for the summer.
Leaving the calf with the cow was what I intended to do last summer when we took care of our granddaughter Megan's cow. The cow, which almost always has twins, calved in June. One twin was a little smaller than the other, and I was convinced that she wasn't getting enough milk. So I fussed and stewed around about it, in spite of advice from Megan's dad and mom that the cow probably could take care of both babies just fine.
Every morning I chased the smaller calf around the corral trying to get her to take a bottle. Sometimes, I enlisted my husband Lyle's help, and I know that he probably thought I was being overly protective, but he didn't say anything. I found that if I waited until 9 a.m., the calf was more apt to nurse on the bottle.
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Having to chase the calf around to drink a bottle should have told me something — duh!
Anyway, my insistence that the calf needed milk went on until late one June afternoon when we were evacuated because of a wildfire. We took the cow and calves to our son and daughter-in-law's property and turned them out in the pasture.
I took some milk replacer and spent the night there so I could try to feed the calf the next morning. But the cow and calf weren't in a corral. The calf hid behind her mom and looked at me if to say, "I can take care of myself, thank you." I went home. Cindy, our daughter-in-law, tried to feed the calf, too — no luck. From that time on the cow raised both babies,
So, when twins are born, there's always the concern that the twins will get enough milk. Sometimes, as with Megan's cow, the cow can feed both babies. At other times, one calf may need to be fed on the bottle all of the time or supplemented. It takes time, and the milk replacer is expensive.
Another problem with twins is that even if the cow can feed both calves, she sometimes will not notice that only one calf has followed her, leaving the other somewhere in the pasture. This understandably drives a rancher crazy!
Then there's the story about this year's twins. They have names. Jiminy and Cricket are spending the summer at Pipi's Pasture with their mom, and that's next week's column.